Why struggle separately when you can thrive together?
That’s a rhetorical question for a group of people living in central Elkhart, a question they’re happy to meet with a logical conclusion: Let’s not.
This group — six adults, one child and one dog — have bought and are renovating two homes in the urbanish Prairie-Wolf neighborhood just south of downtown Elkhart. They bought cheaply during a tax sale, are renovating economically, and are thriving together with inexpensive living and lots of companionship in this housing cooperative.
“When we first were renovating,” said Nicole Bauman, one of the six adults in the cooperative, “I think some of the neighbors assumed we were renovating to rent (the homes) out. We were like, ‘Nope. We’re here to live.’”
A few years back, when the U.S. economy tanked and the so-termed “housing bubble” burst, scores of properties were being lost to the fact that their owners were behind on property-tax payments. Sometimes, Nicole said, just an unpaid, couple-hundred-dollar tax bill meant a family lost its home to the city.
Nicole and others — Mennonite volunteers, you could say — worked to help locals understand all the legalese and to raise funds to keep their homes. Despite their efforts, however, many homes still succumbed to tax debts and went up for sale at drastically slashed prices.
The group of friends and community activists pooled their money and bought a couple of adjacent properties on Wolf Street with the intent to form a cooperative where friends could live together. The “cooperative” idea means low-cost living and a certain type of communal life for which some people are looking.
They formed a limited-liability corporation (“LLC”), which allowed several people to be the properties’ owners, and collect funds monthly from the six adults in the cooperative to cover taxes, utilities, renovations and upkeep and other property-related expenses.
Mexico City native Gaby Tovar and her 5-year-old daughter, Amyrah, live in the cooperative — and love it.
“We all learn and share,” Gaby said. “We’re a family where everyone belongs.”
That’s definitely the main benefit, Gaby said — the friendships, the sharing and caring that happens when people live together and work toward a common goal. Sure, the relatively inexpensive living is a super perk — Gaby is a single mom — but Gaby said it’s the camaraderie, the togetherness that has her sold, for now, on living cooperatively.
Cooperative living — or, as varying degrees of it are called, an “intentional community” — is certainly not a new concept, though it might be one that feels a little foreign to the today-typical U.S. family. Most of us are conditioned to live, rather, independently. In a town, for example, one family might have some dozen households, each one with its own mortgage.
But some people are happy to live independently-but-TOGETHER, people like Gaby and Nicole. They prefer the benefits of cheaper living and lots of fellowship.
There are, of course, drawbacks.
“For every decision, you have to think of others,” Gaby said. “How is this going to affect everyone in the group?” Even things like how to renovate aren’t always easy decisions to make, she said. Everyone might have a different idea, and consensus is the goal.
Add in that, in the Prairie-Wolf cooperative, several cultures are blending, and daily life, even, can be tricky. Gaby, for example, grew up in a massively-populated city. Others, on farms or in rural settings. So they all come to the proverbial table with different life experiences, different ways of living.
The idea of “green space” was new to city-bred Gaby, for example, but just a way of life for Nicole, who grew up growing food and works now, even, on a local community farming project.
Some intentional communities have stipulations — from very loose to very rigid. Some require, for example, that participants agree to regular “community” time like meals and working. Others have a religious requirement or are founded on a certain philosophical bent.
The Prairie-Wolf group has worked to keep things loose. Residents pay each month — with a sliding scale, so to speak, depending on ability and life situations — and everyone’s expected to work on the property and to attend a monthly meeting. Other than that, requirements are minimal.
And is it too much togetherness? Not for this group. If anything, Gaby said, their biggest struggle is that the six adults, one child and one dog are so busy with life that there’s not much time for them just to hang out together. Plus, she said, everyone has his or her own living space.
“That feels really good,” Gaby said.
Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”
Why struggle separately when you can thrive together?
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